Friday, April 24, 2015

Contrasts and Layers

sebp on morguefile
Most people like contrast. A neutral wall becomes a focal point in a room if decorated with colorful artwork or contrasting stripes. Bland chairs and couches make a fashion statement when adorned with brightly colored, harmonizing throw pillows. Conservative suits and shirts invite brilliantly hued or dazzlingly printed ties to show them off. Beige or black skirts and pants beg for multicolored tops or jackets. All the above transform boring into fascinating.

Similarly, layers pique interest. A winter or spring outfit layered to address cold or changing temperatures often garner second looks. Gorgeous rose blossoms sport layers of delicate petals. Vegetables also come in layered forms—cabbage, lettuce, artichokes. Delicious lasagnas and pizzas with multiple toppings, as well as some dips and desserts, offer layers of “yummy” to hungry diners.

pippalou at morguefiles
Our books benefit greatly when both these elements are incorporated. Contrast, for example, can elevate a mediocre story to a must-read novel. How does the protagonist differ from her family? What if the good guy and the bad guy come from the same background? What catapulted one into a bright future and the other down a path of crime and self-destruction? Why does one victim sink into a life of despair while another rises to help other victims overcome their pain? How does major trauma make one person strong and drive another to suicide? The “what-ifs” are almost endless, and the potential for an engaging book practically shouts from contrasting scenarios.

Sarah Unversaw - My great-
grandmother as a teen
The use of layers adds dimension and depth to stories. We are all products of our pasts and family  lines. Recent research suggests that much more can be inherited than just eye and hair color, stature, physical characteristics, and possibilities of certain diseases or other health issues. Some researchers contend that attitudes and actions may be passed from one generation to the next—even if a person has never met the ancestor(s) who possessed those characteristics. Imagine how this possibility might pit a protagonist against family history to enhance your story. Or what if you’re telling the story of identical twins separated at birth? Some captivating tales of uncanny similarities between such twins defy logic and open doors to potentially incredible (and layered) stories. Peeling back family layers, as well as personality layers, opens up a whole can of storyline worms to keep readers coming back for more of your riveting books.

~~Don't miss the start of Kathryn Craft's blog book tour for her new release The Far End of Happy. Kathryn will be our guest on May 1st, discussing the importance of effective layering with examples of how she has applied this to her book. Follow Kathryn's tour here.~~

How do you use contrasts and layers in your stories? Sometimes these come naturally as we write, but other times we need to intentionally incorporate them. Have you experienced the need to consciously include these elements?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at


  1. Comparing and contrasting are excellent tools for defining characters and settings and adding tension.

  2. Definitely, Diana, and they give a story depth and dimension.

  3. I really enjoy exploring differing aspects and perspectives of my themes. For example, a couple of my books deal with monarchy and whether this is a "good" or "bad" method of government - so I show corrupt monarchs, puppet monarchs, idealistic monarchs, really good monarchs who believe they are there to serve their people rather than the other way around... I always start by questioning my own assumptions and then looking for all the degrees along the spectrum to bring into the story.

  4. No doubt this not only added interest to your story, but also may have inspired your readers to question their own positions on the topic. I love stories that challenge my beliefs and make me think.


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